It was the sixth call in two days, all
from the same person. Wouldn’t you think, if a man didn’t answer his phone the
first five times, that the pest would get the message and quit bugging him?
But no, and now Stanley Mann was
irritated enough to pick up and say a gruff “Hello.” Translation: Why are you
“It’s about time you answered,” said his
sister-in-law, Amy. “I was beginning to wonder if you were okay.”
Of course, he wasn’t okay. He hadn’t been
okay since Carol had died.
“I’m fine. Thanks for checking.”
The words didn’t come out with any sense
of warmth or appreciation for her concern to encourage conversation, but Amy
soldiered on. “Stan, we all want you to come down for Thanksgiving. You haven’t
seen the family in ages.”
Not since the memorial service, and he
hadn’t really missed them. He liked his brother-in-law well enough, but his
wife’s younger sister was a ding-dong, her daughters were drama queens and
their husbands were idiots. The younger generation were all into their selfies
and their jobs and their crazy vacations where they swam with sharks. Who in
their right mind swam with sharks? He had better things to do than subject
himself to spending an entire day with them.
He did have enough manners left to thank
Amy for the invite before turning her down.
“You really should come,” she persisted.
No, he shouldn’t.
“Don’t you want to see the new
No, he didn’t. “I’ve got plans.”
“What? To hole up in the house with a
turkey frozen dinner?”
“No.” Not turkey. He hated turkey. It
made him sleepy.
“You know Carol would want you to be with
He’d been with them pretty much every
Thanksgiving of his married life. He’d paid his dues.
“You don’t have any family of your own.”
for rubbing it in. He’d lost his brother ten years earlier
to a heart attack, and both his parents were gone now as well. He and Carol had
never had any kids of their own.
But he was fine. He was perfectly happy
in his own company.
“I’m good, Amy. Don’t worry about me.”
“I can’t help it. You know, Carol was
always afraid that if something happened to her you’d become a hermit.”
Hermits were scruffy old buzzards with
bad teeth and long beards who hated people. Stanley didn’t hate people. He just
didn’t need to be around them all the time. There was a difference. And he
wasn’t scruffy. He brushed his teeth. And he shaved...every once in a while.
“Amy, I’m fine. Don’t worry. Happy
Thanksgiving, and tell Jimmy he can have my share of the turkey,” Stanley said,
then ended the call before she could grill him further regarding those plans
he’d said he had.
They were perfectly good plans. He was
going to pick up a frozen pizza and watch something on TV. That sure beat
driving all the way from Fairwood, Washington, to Gresham, Oregon, to be
alternately bored and irritated by his in-laws. If Amy really wanted to do
something good for him, she could leave him alone.
At first everyone had. He was a man in
mourning. Then came COVID-19, and he was a senior self-quarantining. Now,
however, it appeared he was supposed to be ready to party on. Well, he wasn’t.
Two days before Thanksgiving he made the
one-mile journey to the grocery store, figuring he’d dodge the crowd. He’d
figured wrong, and the store was packed with people finishing up the shopping
for their holiday meal. The turkey supply in the meat freezer was running
dangerously low, and half a dozen women and a lone man crowded around it like
miners at the river’s edge, searching for gold, each trying to snag the best
bird from the selection that remained. A woman rolled past him with a
mini-mountain of food in her cart, a wailing toddler in the seat and two kids
dragging along behind her, one of them pointing to the chips aisle and whining.
“I said no,” she snapped. “We don’t need
Nope. That woman needed a stiff drink.
Stanley grabbed his pizza and some
pumpkin ice cream and got in the checkout line.
Two men around his age stood in front of
him, talking. “They’re out of black olives,” said the first one. “I got green
The second man shook his head. “Your wife
ain’t gonna like that. Everyone knows you got to have black olives at
“I can’t help it if there’s none left on
the shelves. Anyway, the only one who eats ’em is her brother, and the loser
can suck it up and do without.”
Yep, family togetherness. Stanley wasn’t
going to miss that.
He’d miss being with Carol, though. He
missed her every day. Her absence was an ache that never left him, and
resentment kept it ever fresh.
They’d reached what was often referred to
as the Golden Circle, that time in
life when you had enough money to travel and enjoy yourself, when your health
was still good and you could carry your own luggage. They’d enjoyed traveling
and had planned on doing so much more together—taking a world cruise, renting a
beach house in California for a summer, even going deep-sea fishing in Mexico.
Their golden years were going to be great.
Those golden years turned to brass the
day she died. She didn’t even die of cancer or a stroke or something he could
have accepted. She was killed in a car accident. A drunk driver in a truck had
done her in and walked away with nothing more than some bruises from his
airbag. It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair. And Stanley didn’t really have
anything to be thankful about. He didn’t like Thanksgiving.
There would be worse to follow. After
Thanksgiving it would be Merry Christmas!,
Happy Hanukkah!, Happy Kwanzaa!, you name it. All that happy would finally get tied up in a big Happy New Year! bow. As if buying a new calendar magically made
everything better. Well, it didn’t.
Stanley spent his Thanksgiving Day in
lonely splendor, watching football on TV and eating his pizza. It’s not delivery. It’s DiGiorno. Worked
for him. He ate two-thirds of it before deciding he should pace himself. Got to
save room for dessert. Pumpkin ice cream—just as good as the traditional pie
and whipped cream, and it didn’t come with any irritating in-laws. Ice cream
was the food of the gods. After his pizza, he pulled out a large bowl, filled
it and dug in.
When they got older, Carol had turned
into the ice cream police, limiting his consumption. She’d pat his belly and
say, “Now, Manly Stanley, too much of that and you’ll end up looking like a
big, fat snowman. Plus you’ll clog your arteries, and that’s not good. I don’t
want to risk losing you.”
Ironic. He’d wound up losing her instead.
Between all the ice cream and the beer
he’d been consuming with no one to police him, he was starting to look a little
like Frosty the Snowman. (Before he melted.) But who cared? He got himself a
second bowl of ice cream.
He topped it off with a couple of beers
and a movie along with some store-bought cookies. There you go. Happy Thanksgiving.
For a while, anyway. Until everything got
together in his stomach and began to misbehave. He shouldn’t have eaten so
much. Especially the pizza. He really couldn’t do spicy now that he was older.
Telling everyone down there that all would soon be well, he took a couple of
No one down there was listening, and all
that food had its own Turkey Day football game still going in his gut when he
went to bed. He tossed and turned and groaned until, finally, he fell into an
“Pepperoni and sausage?” scolded a voice
in his ear. “You know better than to eat that spicy food, Stanley.”
“I know, I know,” he muttered. “You’re
Carol! Stanley rolled over and saw his wife standing by the side of his bed.
She was wearing the black nightie he always loved to see her in. And then out
of. Her eyes were as blue as ever. How he’d missed that sweet face!
But what was she doing here?
He blinked. “Is it really you?” He
thought he’d never see her again in this lifetime, but there she was. His heart
“Yes, it’s really me,” she said.
She looked radiant and so kissable, but
that quickly changed. Suddenly, her body language wasn’t very lovey-dovey. She
frowned and put her hands on her hips, a sure sign she was about to let him
“What were you thinking?” she demanded.
He didn’t have to ask what she was
referring to. He knew.
“It’s Thanksgiving. I was celebrating,”
She frowned. “All by yourself.”
“I happen to like my own company. You
“There’s liking your own company, and
“I am not hiding,” he insisted.
“Yes, you are. I gave you time to mourn,
time to adjust, but enough is enough. Life is short, Stanley. It’s like living
off your savings. Each day you take another withdrawal, and pretty soon there’s
nothing left. You have to spend those days wisely. You’re wasting yours,
dribbling away the last of your savings.”
“That’s fine with me,” he insisted. “I
hate my life.”
He hated waking up to find her side of
the bed empty and ached for her smile. Without her the house felt deserted. He
“You still like ice cream, don’t you?”
Except for when he paired it with pizza.
“Stanley, you need to get out there and...live.”
“What do you think I’m doing?” he
“Going through the motions, hanging in
What else could she expect? “It’s not the
same without you,” he protested.
“Of course it’s not. But you’re still
here, and you’re here for a reason. Don’t make what happened to me a double
waste. Somebody snatched my life from me, and I wasn’t done with it. I want you
to go on living for the both of us.”
“How can I do that? This isn’t a life,
not without you sharing it.”
“It’s a different kind of life, that’s
It was a subpar, meager existence. “I
miss you, Carol. I miss you sitting across from me at the breakfast table. I
miss us doing things together and sitting together at night, watching TV. I
miss...your touch.” He finished on a sob.
“I know.” She sat down on the bed next to
him, and he couldn’t help noticing how the blankets didn’t shift under her.
“But you have to start filling those empty places, Stanley.”
“I don’t want to,” he cried. “I don’t
He was still muttering “I don’t want to”
when he woke up.
Alone. For a moment there, her presence
had felt so real.
“She wasn’t there at all, you dope,” he
Except why was there a faint scent of peppermint in
the bedroom? It made him think of the chocolate Christmas cookies she used to
make with the mint-candy frosting and sprinkles on them. After a few big
sniffs, he couldn’t detect so much as a whiff of peppermint and shook his head
in disgust. Indigestion and memory. That was all she was.